UWaterloo encourages young women from Vancouver to “Think About Math”

Local Math alumnae team up with the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing

Ready for a fun day of math-related activities, the team from the Faculty’s Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) as well as local Math alumnae, presented compelling uses for mathematics, how math can enrich your life, and the interesting occupations that can result from a degree in mathematics. Most importantly, the young women were encouraged to ‘think about math’ as a topic for continued and future study.

This was the second year that the program of the same name, Think About Math (TAM), was offered in Vancouver. The one-day workshop is designed for young women with mathematics potential, but who may not be considering pursuing math. Since the program was launched in 2009, 580 students have attended the dynamic series of events – one hundred in 2016 alone!

And attendees appreciate having a friendly space for young women with math potential to gather together to share their mutual experiences.

“The ratio for guys to girls in my math classes is usually four to one,” said one participant during the group conversation about succeeding in a subject dominated by boys. Attendees also spoke about raising your hand in class, self confidence and speaking up, or simply dealing head-on with incorrect assumptions because of their gender.

One alumna took a moment to reflect on the growing number of women in math.

“I have to say that you [the students] give me hope,” said Dora Cheng, (BMath ’05). “When I went to high school [the ratio] was ten to one. I was always the only girl in everything. I have been on professional teams where the whole team would fill an auditorium and I would be the only woman. The only one. In 15 to 20 years we have gone from ten to one, to you guys. I am very optimistic. Things are changing. And [workshops] like this are very helpful because for a long time both in school and my career I didn’t know if I was the only one. It helps for more [of us] to come together so our voices are amplified.”

In addition to the Vancouver event, TAM workshops were held in Waterloo and Toronto in April. Activities included interactive workshops such as: Crack-the-code, Computability, and Extreme Makeover: Math Edition. Participants were also treated to warm-up problems and a career fair.

“Students enjoyed the Crack the Code session because they enjoyed learning about the math that keeps our information secure and working on the cryptography puzzles together,” said Fiona Dunbar, Director, Think About Math. “The Computability session introduced participants to the theory of computer science and showed them how to create their own Turing machines. But the math makeover session takes on a life of its own, with some girls rewriting lyrics to a Taylor Swift song and others designing math-positive fashion trends.”

Numerous participants shared that the career fair was the best part of the conference because they learned about new careers and possibilities for their future, with some students requesting that this portion be made longer so there was time to ask more questions of the alumnae.

And alumnae are happy to oblige. Says alumna, Karen Pambrun (BMATH ’01), “It’s important to encourage more women into STEM. More [diversity] brings different points of view to the table. If only men are thinking about technology, that group isn't going to come up with as many ideas as if all genders are thinking about it. When you bring women's experiences and knowledge into play, you are going to come up with a more well-rounded product that meets much greater market demand.”

Post-workshop questionnaires have rated participants’ experience and impact as high, with nearly all participants indicating that they are more interested in math as a result of their TAM experience and would recommend the workshop to a friend.

One parent of a TAM participant noted that, “the entire way home Jessica chatted about her day and all the possibilities there are for her in pursuing a math career. When we got home, we spent the evening browsing through the brochures included in her package and were able to look at the many courses of study available to young students interested in the field.”

It’s feedback that Fiona likes to hear!

Plans for 2017 TAM are now underway. “And we may even have a surprise or two in store for this year’s participants,” says Fiona.  “Student applications for 2017 will be accepted online from February 6 to 22. Successful candidates will be notified by March 6.”

You can find more information on TAM and other CEMC outreach initiatives online, or by contacting Fiona Dunbar.

Are you a parent, caregiver, or teacher of a grade nine or ten girl in Waterloo, Toronto, or Vancouver?  If you want to instill a strong foundation of math confidence and familiarity in them, we want to hear from you!

2017 TAM dates are:

  • April 7, 2017 in Waterloo,
  • April 22, 2017 in Toronto, and
  • May 27, 2017 in Vancouver

Special thanks to York House School (Vancouver) and the Toronto Prep School for hosting our workshops, as well as our engaging alumnae in:

Vancouver - Karen Pambrun, Nagmeh Ghafari, Dora Cheng, Angela Robert and Wendy Yuen

Toronto - Christine Sio, Diane Kilcoyqne, Diane Tishri, Jennifer Nguyen, Kristy Boys, Laura Atkinson, Pam Tatroff, Rachelle Boisioli and Judy Dinn.

Waterloo - Alison Boyd, Cecilia Cotton, Diane Kilcoygne, Diane Tishri, Dinah Davis, Laura Atkinson, Rachelle Boisjoli, Sarah Kerr, Sheri Patterson and Verna Friesen.

Are you an alumna who works in an interesting career where you utilize math in innovative or creative ways?  We want to hear from you! Email Candace Harrington.